Today I’m thrilled to have Deborah Niemann sharing her knowledge with us. She is an author, blogger, and homesteader extraordinaire. She also recently published Raising Goats Naturally: The Complete Guide to Milk, Meat, and More. She is a wealth of knowledge, and I think you’ll enjoy her post as much as I did!
Having breastfed my own human kids and having been a lactation consultant in my pre-homesteading life, there was no question when we got goats that we would be letting the mamas raise their own babies. In fact, I had no idea that some people viewed dam-raising quite negatively. People told me my kids would be wild, while others asked questions like, “Can you milk a goat if she was dam-raised?” and “Don’t you worry about the does having lopsided udders?”
Although my initial decision to dam-raise was simply based upon my own gut feelings, after eleven years of raising milk goats, I now have some solid reasons for continuing the practice.
Why I Prefer Dam-Raised Goats
1. I prefer the personality of dam-raised kids. Like most people, I thought they were adorable the first few times we had to bottle-raise kids, but after some bottle kids killed most of our young apple trees, I started to reconsider. Dam-raised goats have great herd instincts and want to stay with the herd. Bottle-raised kids view the humans as their herd and can find the tiniest opening in a fence or gate and escape. And once they’ve escaped, they can find all sorts of trouble — like stripping the bark from young fruit trees.
2. Research has shown that does raising kids produce more milk due to the fact that kids nursing cause the doe’s body to release oxytocin. We realized this a few years ago when we would see a decrease in production about three days after we took the kids away for weaning. It is one of the reasons that we no longer wean doelings as long as they are on our farm. (Source)
3. Dam-raised kids tend to be healthier and grow faster.
As long as my kids are nursing, they don’t usually have problems with parasites or other health-related issues. A doe’s milk has natural antibodies to all of the microscopic bugs on our farm, from bacteria to parasites, and this helps to keep the kids healthy while their own immune system is maturing.
4. Research has shown that goats are less stressed when kids are dam-raised, and generally less stress equals better health. The does are less aggressive due to the oxytocin released, and there is less stress on the doelings because they are never separated from the herd, therefor they never have to go through the stress of reintroduction to a herd of larger and more mature does. (Source)
But what about all the reasons people bottle-fed kids?
Won’t the kids be wild? It is true that if a doe gives birth in the pasture and you never touch her kids, they will be wild. But it is possible to have friendly dam-raised kids. It is far less work to play with kids every day than to bottle-feed. I generally sit down in the barn with the kids every night after chores and play with them for half an hour or so. If you have children, they are usually happy to perform this “chore.”
What about diseases that are passed through raw milk? Of course, you don’t want to dam-raise kids if you have does that are positive for CAE or Johnes. However, there are plenty of other reasons you don’t want does in your herd that have CAE or Johnes. I purchased all of my goats from herds that had negative all-herd tests for CAE, and then we tested them annually for several years. Once my herd was “closed” for more than one year, I tested every goat for CAE, Johnes, and CL. Whenever we have an unexplained goat death, we have the body necropsied so that we know the cause of death. After eleven years of having healthy goats, we feel very confident that we have no latent diseases hiding on our farm.
The decision of whether to dam-raise or bottle-feed is ultimately a personal one that will likely mirror other health decisions you make in your life. Although many people choose to dam-raise because it simply feels like the right decision, there are some good reasons to let mamas raise their own babies.
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Deborah Niemann is the author of Raising Goats Naturally: A Complete Guide to Milk, Meat, and More, and she has been raising goats for eleven years. Her family produces all of their own dairy products, meat, eggs, honey, and maple syrup, as well as a large part of their fruits and vegetables. She blogs at http://www.thriftyhomesteader.com and http://antiquityoaks.blogspot.com